So, I am the worst ‘film buff’ in the world. I’ve only just watched American Psycho. With cult classics, I am always cautious to watch them as there is such hype around them that I’m worried I’ll be disappointed with the outcome – and when I first finished it, I have to admit. I wasn’t sure what all the hype was about. Then I dissected it, digested it and realised what a masterpiece it really is. But I want to talk about one particular scene – the one where Patrick Bateman, the protagonist kills one of his early victims, business rival Paul Allen.
The film as a whole is a take on three different types of vices – pride, greed and lust all under the umbrella of power. The pride is shown in the meticulous manner in which all of the businessmen shown throughout the film, especially Patrick Bateman, go through to maintain a pristine appearance. Whether that’s through the Valentino suits that they wear or the text on their business card or their skin or their ability to gain dinner reservations at fancy restaurants. The greed is also embedded in all of these things as even though we see them reap the benefits of their ‘work’, we never actually see them do any working. Finally, lust. Portrayed through the escorts and most notably, Bateman’s bloodlust.
Let’s take a look at the first shot.
Paul Allen, portrayed by Jared Leto, is the central focus of the shot which reflects the fact that he is the central focus for Bateman right now. On the subject of vices, his surround him – the little cigar in the ashtray, the whiskey tumbler in his hand and the bottle to the other side of him. He is surrounded by the things that inevitably become his downfall. Because he’s so drunk, he is oblivious to what is happening around him. Everything surrounding him is crisp and clean – even the little crosses that Bateman has secured the newspaper with aren’t at any angles. They’re perfect. He’s set the stage for the crime that he is about to commit.
The shot then cuts to Bateman holding the Huey Lewis and the News CD, asking Paul if he likes them. Product placements are rife throughout films now and this feels like an obvious promotion. Bateman is showing it so clearly that we can see exactly what it is and then he goes on to promote them as if he is a radio presenter. The entire way through the film, there are focuses on branding and commercialism so this isn’t an odd thing to see.
When Paul responds with ‘they’re okay’, there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it moment where Bateman looks irritated. He then goes on to walk across the apartment, speaking in a lower voice about their earlier albums. He then turns on his heel and begins an over-the-top promotion of the band in a strange, overly characterised voice that is full of confidence and somewhat out of place. This is a perfect depiction of Bateman’s character – he is trying to portray himself as human and the main source of humanity he sees are the ‘yuppies’ that he works with or the people on TV. Both of which talk in that over the top manner. He then leaves in a very robotic, forced way to go and collect the raincoat from the bathroom while continuing his speech with even more exuberance. He pulls his collar down, impressed as if he’s a car salesman who has just made the sale.
The shot then cuts to a close up of a glass of water and some pills. This is the first sign that the audience has had aside from his behaviour that Bateman has mental health issues. His face grows stoic as he downs the pills before he dances out of the room with an axe back to Paul. Literally. Sidenote that the moonwalk was actually improvised by Christian Bale and it fits perfectly.
He pauses and drops the axe down in perfect place – like a member of the military finishing their present of arms. A motif that I noticed throughout the film is that the director Mary Harron uses lines a lot to distance Bateman from the rest of the cast, to show that he isn’t one of them. This has carried on in this moment where the pillar of the breakfast bar separates him and Paul. It’s a really subtle moment but it is perfect to subtly create that disconnect between him and ‘normal’ people.
Paul speaks again for the first time in a while, totally ignoring Bateman’s monologue about the band before asking why he has ‘copies of the style section’ across the house. This further enhances how much they rely on the media and consumerism as he doesn’t notice the sheets covering all of the furniture, just the newspaper and specifically the ‘style’ section.
Skipping ahead a little bit, this line is vital to the entire crux of the film: ‘I think their undisputed masterpiece is “Hip To Be Square”. A song so catchy, most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity and the importance of trends. It’s also a personal statement about the band itself. ‘ Even though this is seemingly a throw away line, it is an evaluation of the film and Patrick’s character. Throughout the movie, he confesses to mulitple people that he has killed people or wants to. But because he is a perfect fit for the rest of the yuppies – ‘a song so catchy’ – nobody listens to him or his confessions – ‘ most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics but they should.’ He goes on to dissect even more saying that it is not about the ‘pleasures of conformity’ when his entire life is built to conform, to be the best, to have the best business card and be able to get the best dinner reservations and the ‘importance of trends’ aka listening to the music he thinks people want him to listen to, wearing the suits people want him to wear. ‘It’s also a personal statement about the band itself’ which is him saying that everything he has been saying is a personal statement about him and his character which nobody knows the true essence of.
He then pulls off the ‘yuppie mask’ and reveals who he truly is. The moment the axe lands into Paul, he loses the overt accent and yells at him in a dillusional way. His hair falls out of place, his face is covered in blood and there’s even a moment where spit comes flying out of his mouth. Nothing about his pristine appearance remains. Once Paul is dead, he slicks back his hair and emotionless, sits down and lights a cigar.
Absorbing what he has done and knowing it will never be enough.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post. I know it’s a bit different for me but I really can’t get this film out of my head and the cleverness of it. There are times where I really miss dissecting films like this so if you guys like to see these type of posts then make sure you follow so that you can see more as I plan to do more posts like this!
Morgie out. x
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